While Kermit “The Killer” Cintron was off having his own battles, Paul “The Punisher” Williams was carving his way through three divisions. Following his upset win over Antonio Margarito in summer of 2007, Williams felt he had inherited Margarito’s stature in the division. What he ended up going away with was Margarito’s reputation as someone to be avoided. When initial talks of a fight with Cintron went nowhere, Williams instead took on Puerto Rican Carlos Quintana in February of 2008 and lost for the first time via shocking unanimous decision. Williams would bounce back quickly, rematching Quintana in June of ’08 and stopping him in just one round off a nasty right hook that set up the finish.
In fact, 2008, which started off rocky would see Williams jump from 147 in June to 160 in September to take on unheralded Andy Kolle (who Williams blew out in one round). Williams rounded out the year with a decision win over Verno Phillips to take an interim junior middleweight belt.
But still, despite moving up and down through three divisions, the big fights and the big fighters avoided Williams. Why, you ask? Well, let’s look at the numbers:
Style: Come-forward southpaw who throws a ton of shots per round and can move and box but prefers a straight up fight.
Height: Some say 6’1. Others say 6’3.” Really, it doesn’t matter how tall he is.
Reach: 82” (some say 83”) that right there is a problem for anyone from 147 to 160.
Weight: Well, to hear Williams tell it, it doesn’t really matter either.
“I kind of like how I am doing it now,” a relaxed and jubilant Williams told a group of assembled media last week in L.A. “I wouldn’t settle into a division. I like going up and down. The weight is so easy to make for me. It gives people a lot to talk about. ‘What weight he coming in now?’ And then a lot of guys talking smack; they can’t talk too much or I’ll come in their weight class.” At that last part the table erupted along with Williams into laughter.
Following the Phillips fight, Williams had his second big-name fight. This time at middleweight, against inactive fellow southpaw and defensive specialist Winky Wright. The result was one of Williams’ best nights yet as he went after Wright and put it on him as few had before. Williams was riding high and a fight loomed with middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik. Everything seemed set for an October 2009 fight but a staph infection in Pavlik’s left hand postponed the event until December 5,, 2009. However, two weeks out from that proposed date, Team Pavlik canceled again citing the same health reasons. Goossen-Tutor Promotions, who handles Williams, was able to salvage the HBO date and bring in Sergio Martinez as a last-minute replacement. Williams- being Williams- was ready for action.
He needed to be because the fight itself was a war that was voted one of 2009’s best fights. It was a seesaw affair that saw Williams drop Martinez in the first round with a grazing balance shot only to eat a hard shot of Martinez’ and taste the canvas himself. From there, it was anyone’s game as both men wrested control from each other throughout the fight.
“I’ll say that my last fight was a bit hard like that because I was training for four or five months for one guy and then [in] two-and-a-half weeks, they switch out and I have to train for a new guy. Mr. Peterson told me we couldn’t really get good training for this guy because we only have two-and-a-half-weeks, so make him fight the whole night. Just make him fight. That was the whole plan. To get on him and make him fight and that’s what we did.”
It’s been years since I first began interviewing Williams and in that time, from fight to fight, he has opened up, become more relaxed talking to the press and comfortable with his place in the sport. A big part of that is his trainer/mentor, George Peterson, who Williams trusts implicitly and who has guided him from his very beginnings in Aiken, South Carolina. From how he jokes and talks with the press, the maturation process of the 28-year-old shows.
There is something about him now that is different. According to Williams, it comes down to that first war he had with Margarito. That night showed him everything he would ever need in the future.
“I took it to that limit in ’07 at Home Depot Center when I fought Margarito,” Williams explained. “Even when I was doing my thing, he started coming on real hard and I held my own. That let me know that I could go like that. With Martinez, everybody was like ‘How you going to react?’ And they were like ‘Oh, he act the same as he always act. He didn’t show no hurt. He got knocked down for the first time. And he was like ‘OK, let’s do it.’’ So I been there and done that.”
In the end, Williams got the nod via majority decision, a long rest, and a chance to finally get Cintron in the ring. Knowing who he is and who his opponent will be May 8 makes all the difference.
“I got four to five months to train for Kermit,” said Williams. “I’ve got strategies I can go in there with, this time. That [Margarito] fight, I didn’t have no strategies. It was about fighting. This time I have a game plan. I understand what I’m going to do in this fight. How I’m going to fight this guy. So this will be something much different.”
In Peterson’s opinion, that isn’t the only thing different in this fight.
When they were first set to meet, Cintron was trained by Detroit’s Emanuel Steward of Kronk Gym fame. Cintron’s style was more stalker/puncher then. He let his hands go in brutal combinations, but was flat-footed, looking to take your head off. The style played to his natural right hand power but, other than his brutal KO of Walter Matthyse in July 2007 as the co-feature to Margarito/Williams, Steward and Cintron’s styles never meshed. Now that Cintron has moved on to Houston’s Ronnie Shields, Peterson says he sees a change in Cintron to be cautious of.
“I noticed a difference in [Cintron’s] confidence level,” said Peterson “His skill level was always there. Not so much skill level, but his confidence level. Higher. I don’t know; maybe its growth. It’s maturity. It comes with age, experience. So that could possibly be the reason. But I know it’s there.” We tried to fight him twice before and what happened? This time he is in there ready to go. Its confidence, you know?”
While Peterson’s job is to figure out the game plan and prepare Williams accordingly, “The Punisher” claims he is down for whatever, his confidence flows freely with the knowledge that he has been tested and has come out the other side, scathed but victorious. The fight with Cintron presents several challenges. In Cintron, he is facing a man who considers himself reborn with a newfound confidence and style who knows this may be his last shot at boxing glory. None of this concerns Paul Williams.
“Me? I’m game for whatever kind of fight they bring to the ring,” explained Williams. “It don’t matter to me. That’s how I eat. That’s how I fight. If it’s going to be boring, I’m not going to make it a boring fight because I’m going to bring the action to you. If you try to lay back and make it real relaxing, no, I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone. I’m going to make you fight my pace the whole night.”
And should things not go his way or the big fights he dreams of never happening? That’d be just fine, too.
“I take the good with the bad,” he said with an easy summer day smile. “I’m like ‘Oh well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.’ If they don’t want to fight, then Mr. Peterson and I got my business in order. If I quit today, I wouldn’t be hurting for a sandwich or nothing. I could live. I got apartment buildings I make money off of. I got houses I’m making money off of. I got a salon making money. He made me invest my money the wise way. I’m glad God put Mr. Peterson in my life.”
The Uncertain Past…
One of several fights that never materialized was a rematch with Margarito. While the first fight was a sellout and a “Fight of the Year” candidate, when it came time to go again, neither side could agree. So off they went on their separate paths. As reported here in the past, Margarito went on to attempt to cheat against Shane Mosley last year using loaded hand wraps he may or may not have been aware of, had his license revoked, and is now poised to return to the sport on a card in Mexico on the night of Willams/Cintron. When asked what he thought of a rematch with Margarito, Williams was game but realistic from a business standpoint.
“I would’ve given Margarito a rematch of the fight everyone wanted to see but he chose Mosley and then he kind of hurt his reputation, what with all that went on,” explained Williams. “What would be the point of fighting him now? It would probably be another win, but everybody would be saying, ‘Well, he died down’ or whatever. But hey, if the fans want to see it and the money’s right and Mr. Peterson feels like I can go back and do it, why not? Easy work for me. That’s not me being arrogant or cocky. That’s my confidence level.”
Since Margarito was caught with inserts in his hand wraps, many have called into question the rest of his career. He had approximately 21 knockouts with his ex-trainer Javier Capetillo, the man who ultimately took full responsibility for the wraps being used. Miguel Cotto and Cintron have both been very vocal about how they feel. Williams, another potential victim, has a different take.
“Why ban the man for that? “Williams asked. “It isn’t like he went in the ring with it. They caught it.”
When asked if a fighter would be able to tell if something was in his wraps he answered “Of course, you can feel it. You know when something wrong. You know when something ain’t right. But you know what? I can’t say. A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you think he had it in when you fought him?’ I can’t say ‘Yes’ and I can’t say ‘No.’ I heard Cintron say he hasn’t lost because Margarito had stuff in his gloves. There’s no proof of that. He has no proof he had it in his gloves, so you can’t say that. I don’t think he should be banned because that’s how he makes his living. I think he should’ve paid a bigger fine, but don’t take away the man’s living. Everybody makes mistakes and stuff. That could’ve been a crucial mistake. A lot of people have died. They caught it before it really actually happened in the ring and stuff, so I think they should hit him with a hard fine and let him go on with his life.”